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Community Life in Kansas

Community Life in Kansas

She walked into the Biggest Store one morning four years before

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with seventy-five other girls, applying for a job behind the waist

department counter. The phalanx of wage-earners formed a bewildering

scene of beauty, carrying a total mass of blond hair sufficient to

have justified the horseback gallops of a hundred Lady Godivas.

 

The capable, cool-eyed, impersonal, young, bald-headed man whose task

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it was to engage six of the contestants, was aware of a feeling of

suffocation as if he were drowning in a sea of frangipanni, while

white clouds, hand-embroidered, floated about him. And then a sail

hove in sight. Hetty Pepper, homely of countenance, with small,

contemptuous, green eyes and chocolate-colored hair, dressed in a suit

of plain burlap and a common-sense hat, stood before him with every

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one of her twenty-nine years of life unmistakably in sight.

 

“You’re on!” shouted the bald-headed young man, and was saved. And

that is how Hetty came to be employed in the Biggest Store. The story

of her rise to an eight-dollar-a-week salary is the combined stories

of Hercules, Joan of Arc, Una, Job, and Little-Red-Riding-Hood. You

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shall not learn from me the salary that was paid her as a beginner.

There is a sentiment growing about such things, and I want no

millionaire sonata sleeping pill of my tenement-house to throw

dynamite bombs into my skylight boudoir.

 

The story of Hetty’s discharge from the Biggest Store is so nearly a

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repetition of her engagement as to be monotonous.

 

In each department of the store there is an omniscient, omnipresent,

and omnivorous person carrying always a mileage book and a red

necktie, and referred to as a “buyer.” The destinies of the girls in

his department who live on (see Bureau of Victual Statistics)–so much

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per week are in his hands.

 

This particular buyer was a capable, cool-eyed, impersonal, young,

bald-headed man. As he walked along the aisles of his department he

seemed to be sailing on a sea of frangipanni, while white clouds,

machine-embroidered, floated around him. Too many sweets bring

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surfeit. He looked upon Hetty Pepper’s homely countenance, emerald

eyes, and chocolate-colored hair as a welcome oasis of green in a

desert of cloying beauty. In a quiet angle of a counter he pinched her

arm kindly, three inches above the elbow. She slapped him three feet

away with one good blow of her muscular and not especially lily-white

right. So, now you know why Hetty Pepper came to leave the Biggest

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Store at thirty minutes’ notice, with one dime and a nickel in her

purse.

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